Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Questions without Notice

Australian Natural Disasters

2:55 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Y (—) (): My question is to the Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience, Senator McKenzie. We've recently seen some quite devastating flooding in the north of New South Wales and in the south-west of Queensland. We've seen some crops destroyed just when farmers thought that they were going to be able to start repaying the bank. Can the minister please update the Senate on what the Liberals and Nationals in government are doing to keep Australians safe, to provide support to the communities that are affected by recent floods and severe weather and some information for the communities that are right at this very minute watching their TV screens and listening to the weather reports in trepidation.

2:56 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Davey for her question and for her ongoing advocacy for regional New South Wales. I'm sure everyone in this place will agree that the flooding and severe weather we're seeing in New South Wales at the moment is very, very concerning. That's why our government is already providing assistance to New South Wales through the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. It's the primary way we can provide support to states and territories that are affected by disasters.

This year we've put in a new streamlined process for activating DRFA assistance so that we, as a Commonwealth, can respond more quickly following severe disasters. We've been working very closely with New South Wales to ensure that we deliver the support needed where it's needed and, for that reason, we've extended that funding from the original seven local government areas identified by New South Wales, earlier this month, to another 13 local government areas last Friday. We stand ready to extend that support again should New South Wales need further assistance.

The support currently being provided covers the critical early needs of a community following a disaster: support for people suffering through hardship and distress, financial assistance for small businesses and primary producers and funding to clean up and repair damaged essential public assets.

The DRFA continues to be the most effective and immediate way that our government can support Australians affected by disasters, helping them to get back on their feet and to keep them safe. In the last decade we've provided over $12 billion in funding to states and territories through this mechanism. In the last few weeks alone, in addition to the support we've provided to New South Wales, we've also worked closely with other states and territories to get assistance to Australians on the ground, to Queensland, which also experienced flooding earlier this month across five local government areas, and to South Australia across 24 LGAs—I'd like to shout out to Rowan Ramsey, from the other place, for his strong advocacy for the farmers there—and to Victoria, for prolonged power outage payments. (Time expired)

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Davey, a supplementary question?

2:58 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, we've got forecasts that we'll see a wetter-than-average summer. We're now predicted to be in a La Nina weather cycle, which normally brings increased rain and higher chances of flooding. This will lead to more flooding across the east of the country. What is our government doing to mitigate against flood damage and to help with the repair bill but also to prepare for future flooding events?

2:59 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience) Share this | | Hansard source

With a La Nina established in our region, we're certainly going to see higher than average rainfall across many parts of the country, and unfortunately that means more flooding in the east and cyclones to our north. We know floods are the most costly natural disaster and that's why flood mitigation is such a high-impact investment. We also know from the findings of the royal commission that flood mitigation is incredibly important. Building resilience saves recovery costs later on.

Today I was very proud to announce that applications are open for the second round of national flood mitigation. We are putting another $50 million of investment on the table for flood mitigation, bringing the total investment by our government to $100 million for the last two years, building on the strong demand that we saw across the country. The National Flood Mitigation Infrastructure Program will be funded from our Emergency Response Fund, which is a future focused, dedicated, sustainable investment fund.


Senator Davey, a second supplementary question?

3:00 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can the minister please explain how the Emergency Response Fund operates, how people can access it and how it can be used to better prepare Australia for natural disasters?

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said, it is a national program and will be delivered in partnership with states and territories. I encourage all local governments to work closely with their jurisdiction to apply over coming months. The Emergency Response Fund is a dedicated investment fund credited with approximately $4 billion and established in 2019. The act is very, very prescriptive in how the $200 million is available to be accessed each financial year and how we as a government can use it. Each year, $50 million can be used to build resilience and prepare for or reduce the risk of future natural disasters, which is the announcement I made today on flood mitigation funding. Each financial year, $150 million can be available to fund emergency response and recovery following natural disasters in Australia that have a significant or catastrophic impact when the government determines that existing recovery programs are insufficient to meet the of the response.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.